Sports Xtra


Conte says 3-0 Chelsea defeat 'unfair'

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte felt the 3-0 defeat in Barcelona which ended his side's involvement in the Champions League was "unfair".

Two goals from Lionel Messi plus one from Ousmane Dembele - his first in a Barca shirt - helped the Spanish giants to a 4-1 aggregate victory.

Defeat damages Chelsea's chances of Champions League football next season, with Conte's side now needing a top-four finish in the Premier League.

"We have no regrets," he said.

"If you watch the game, you can see the final result is unfair."

Conte acknowledged Messi - who also scored in the first leg - had been "the difference" between the sides.

The Argentina striker's second goal in the Nou Camp took him to 100 in the Champions League.

While Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo holds the record with 117, Messi reached three figures in 14 games fewer.

"We are talking about the best player in the world," said Conte.

"He scores 60 goals every season - he is a super top player. Barcelona were very clinical."

Chelsea led for 13 minutes of the first leg and hit the woodwork four times over the two matches.

N'Golo Kante and Marcos Alonso both went close in the Nou Camp, before Antonio Rudiger headed against the bar in the closing moments.

The Blues also had appeals for a penalty waved away when Alonso went down inside the area under a challenge from Gerard Pique.

"We didn't deserve to lose 3-0," said Conte. "We were a bit unlucky.

"I think we created many chances but we didn't take them.

"I must be very proud about my players - they gave everything and we have to continue in this way, with this will to fight and desire to fight together."

'I don't think we deserve to be out'

Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois told BT Sport: "I don't think we deserve to be out, but individual mistakes cost us in both legs.

"The first goal... I didn't expect Lionel Messi to shoot from that angle and I was too late in closing my legs. It was a mistake on my part.

"The weakest point is between the legs of a goalkeeper. It is annoying. I cannot hide inside, I have to be a man and come out."

Chelsea wing-back Marcos Alonso told BT Sport: "We knew they have top players and we cannot give them one metre because they can create and score.

"We have to improve and when you lose, you have to train and get better."

Credit: BBC

Written by Gideon Sarpong

Conte defends Chelsea approach in Man City defeat

Antonio Conte defended his tactical approach as Manchester City beat Chelsea 1-0 at the Etihad on Sunday afternoon.

Bernardo Silva scored the only goal as City took another stride towards the Premier League title with a 1-0 victory over their lacklustre opponents.

The scoreline did not reflect City’s dominance of a one-sided contest at the Etihad Stadium, with fading champions Chelsea offering little as they slipped to a fourth defeat in five league games.

The visitors did at least make City dig deep for their victory as, playing without a recognised striker they sat back, but Silva’s 46th-minute breakthrough was no less than the hosts deserved.

It extended City’s lead at the top of the table to 18 points and left them only four wins from the title, while Chelsea were cut five points adrift of the top four in fifth place.

“In this moment it is very difficult to play against Manchester City,” Conte told Sky Sports.

“They are a really strong team with fantastic quality. We tried. It’s a pity for the goal we conceded after 30 seconds of the second half, that changed the game. My tactics were to not concede space between the lines, if you do that you risk losing by many goals.

“They have a fantastic mentality when they lose the ball, they want to run and press and are a really strong team.”

Conte was asked if his team were adventurous enough, with criticism directed towards Chelsea’s negative approach after the game.

“Do you think this? If you give City space behind us the game can finish not 1-0. It’s not good enough but this is the truth, I don’t think this is because of the tactics.

“It’s not simple to play against Man City. They have great intensity of every moment of the game we tried to do this and defend well but we conceded a goal after 30 seconds of the second half and it’s very difficult to come back from that but don’t forget we were missing N’Golo Kante who is a crucial player for our balance.”

Written by Gideon Sarpong

City edge to within four wins of title

Chelsea boss Antonio Conte has defended the use of his tactics in his side's defeat at league-leaders Manchester City.

The Blues produced a surprisingly negative display and failed to have a shot on target in the match as Bernardo Silva's goal less than a minute into the second half sealed the game and pushed Manchester City closer to the Premier League title.

Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville called Chelsea's display "absolutely unacceptable" and accused Conte's players of being "mannequins", while colleague Jamie Redknapp called their approach "anti-football" and "a crime against football".

Conte responded: "I think in this moment you have to accept every critic, but I am not so stupid to play against Manchester City open and to lose 3-0 or 4-0.

"If I remember well, a few days ago, Arsenal played twice against them and then you criticise a lot (Arsenal manager Arsene) Wenger because they concede three goals in only 30 minutes.

"I think that the pundit has to use the head to understand when you speak about tactics because I think that you must have knowledge to speak about tactics and not only to speak in a stupid way."

When asked if Chelsea could have been more ambitious in their play, striker Olivier Giroud, who came on as substitute, said: "It is a good question. The coach made his tactics. We tried to respect it."

Pep Guardiola's side were forced to bide their time before making the breakthrough on Sunday and it came when Bernardo Silva stole in ahead of Marcos Alonso from David Silva's cross to beat Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and give City a mammoth 18-point lead at the top of the table.

Chelsea did not register a single shot on target, leaving Manchester City keeper Ederson a virtual bystander as he was even able to watch Alonso's timid shot drift wide with seconds left.

It was a disappointing day for Chelsea and manager Conte - and of even greater concern is that they are now five points adrift of Tottenham in fourth place in the race for spots in next season's Champions League.

Written by Gideon Sarpong

Conte says top-four push 'won't be easy'

Chelsea boss Antonio Conte conceded "it won't be easy" for his side to finish in the top four of the Premier League after a 2-1 loss at Manchester United.

The Blues slipped to fifth as Tottenham climbed into the Champions League places with a win at Crystal Palace.

Spurs are two points clear of last season's champions with 10 games left.

"There is this risk," said Conte. "We must be ready to be concentrated, and to understand this target is an important target for us."

Willian put Chelsea in front at Old Trafford but goals from former Blues striker Romelu Lukaku and Jesse Lingard took United back up to second in the table.

Chelsea's next match is against runaway leaders Manchester City next Sunday (16:00 GMT), a day after Tottenham take on Huddersfield (15:00 GMT).

Written by Gideon Sarpong

Mistake costs Chelsea in draw with Barcelona

Barcelona's Lionel Messi scored an equaliser to deny Chelsea a famous victory in the first leg of their last-16 Champions League tie at Stamford Bridge.

Willian, who had twice hit the post in the first half, put the Blues ahead with another low strike from outside the penalty area.

However, Antonio Conte's side were only ahead for 13 minutes before Andreas Christensen played a loose pass and Andres Iniesta linked up with Messi, who slotted it past Thibaut Courtois.

The second leg takes place at the Nou Camp on Wednesday, 14 March and La Liga leaders Barcelona, with the benefit of an away goal, will be favourites to advance.

The result at Stamford Bridge does mean that none of the English teams have lost in their last-16 first-leg ties so far.

Liverpool beat Porto 5-0, Manchester City defeated Basel 4-0, Tottenham drew 2-2 at Juventus and Manchester United play away at Sevilla on Wednesday, 21 February.

In tonight's other Champions League match, German champions Bayern Munich thrashed Besiktas 5-0 after the Turkish side had Domagoj Vida sent off in the 16th minute.

Written by Gideon Sarpong

'Chelsea should fear new-look Barcelona'

It's nearly 16 months since Barcelona last faced English opposition, and a lot has changed at the Spanish giants since their emphatic 3-1 defeat at Manchester City in November 2016.

That defeat offered an accurate representation of Barca's strengths and weaknesses at the time - they produced some sparkling attacking football to take the lead but were ultimately undone by a lack of defensive structure that allowed City to run riot in the second half.

Those deficiencies meant then manager Luis Enrique endured a disappointing final season in charge, with his side surrendering the Spanish title to Real Madrid and exiting the Champions League in the quarter-finals.

But that all feels a long time ago, with the new and improved Barca vintage, under Ernesto Valverde, determinedly hunting down another league, cup and European treble.

They may not be producing the same kind of flowing football as in the Pep Guardiola era, but - as they prepare for Tuesday's Champions League visit to Chelsea - they are looking good. Very good.

Is Messi's Chelsea drought due to end?

Chelsea fans could be forgiven for wondering what all the fuss is about when it comes to Lionel Messi, because the Argentine has failed to score in any of his eight previous games against the London club - the most he's played against any team without scoring.

In fact, the last meeting between the teams resulted in one of Messi's greatest personal disappointments as he missed a crucial penalty in the second leg of the 2012 semi-final at the Nou Camp, with the Blues going on to win the competition in Munich.

Messi also has a poor record against Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, who went six games without conceding against the Barca talisman during his final season with Atletico Madrid in 2013-14 - a campaign that ended with Atletico beating Barca to the title on the last day of the season and knocking them out of the Champions League.

But surely records like that are only meant to be broken by players with the quality of Messi, who is heading into this week's game in fabulous form having already scored 27 goals in all competitions this season.

Not only is Messi the top scorer in La Liga - his 20 goals helping his team establish a seven-point lead - but he's also first in the assists charts with 11 goals created - mostly for Luis Suarez.

The only opponent capable of stopping Messi, it sometimes seems, is the woodwork - he has hit the post or crossbar 15 times. So perhaps Courtois can call upon the help of an extra 'defender'.

The departure of Neymar to Paris St-Germain necessitated a tactical change, and Valverde has settled on a 4-4-2 formation.

It allows Messi - for the first time in his career, really - to play as a traditional number 10 behind centre-forward Luis Suarez. It is a role known as the 'enganche' in Argentine football.

The main beneficiary of Neymar's departure and the subsequent change in formation is left-back Jordi Alba, who had a drastic dip in form last season to the extent he was often omitted from the starting line-up.

The absence of Neymar created a gap on the left wing, and Alba has filled it superbly - especially in his understanding with Messi, who routinely delivers angled passes over the opposition defence into the path of Alba, then looks for return passes.

Barcelona's 5-0 cup thrashing of Celta Vigo last month provided a particularly vivid demonstration of their almost telepathic understanding: the first two goals were scored by Messi after passes from Alba, who then netted the third after benefiting from the Argentina forward's glorious assist.

Alba has been credited with eight assists so far this season, and seven of those have been for Messi, making it clear just how potent their partnership has become.

The opposing left-back might not seem like the most obvious attacking threat for Chelsea to contain, but Alba's endless reserves of energy allow him to effectively play as a winger and a full-back at the same time, and it will be essential for the Blues to cut out his exchanges with Messi.

Written by Gideon Sarpong